previous | contents |  next 

The following is an unauthorized version of the Report of the Panel of Experts to the United Nations on Sierra Leone.
This is not the official report. The official report has not yet been released. The report posted here is subject to change by the sanctions committee.



A. General

219. Security Council Resolution 1306 (2000) mandated the Panel to consider the adequacy of air traffic control systems in the region for the purpose of detecting flights of aircraft carrying arms and related matériel across national borders in violation of United Nations sanctions. Effective monitoring of airspace and a proper control system at airports is vital for the detection of illicit trafficking. In this context, the Panel found that regional air surveillance capacities are weak or totally inadequate in detecting, or in acting as a deterrent to the arms merchants supplying Liberia and the RUF. Weak airspace surveillance in the region in general, and abusive practices with regard to aircraft registration, create a climate in which arms traffickers operate with impunity. (Technical notes on this subject are contained in Part III of this report.)

220. There are many examples of this problem. On July 18, 2000 an Ilyushin 18D with Liberian registration EL-ALY requested permission to land at Conakry in Guinea. The aircraft was operated by a company named West Africa Air Services. The crew were citizens of the Republic of Moldova and the plane had flown from Kyrgyzstan to Burkina Faso, then to Guinea and finally to Liberia. The cargo documents listed seven tons of 'spare parts to equipment of aircraft' and the client was a company named Kipo Dersgona in Conakry, Guinea. This 'Guinean' company is not listed in the register of companies in Guinea. The plane is also not among those listed for the Panel by the Liberian authorities as having Liberian registry, nor is it listed by the International Civil Aviation Organization..

221. The case was still under investigation at the time of writing. Tracing a plane carrying an unknown registration number, however, is practically impossible, and the plane was probably using multiple registrations, shifting rapidly from one to another in order to avoid detection. Such clear abuses of international aviation procedures are not easily detected unless navigation controllers and national airport authorities in several countries cooperate, and actively track and share information on the whereabouts and operations of such aircraft.

B. Aircraft Registered in Liberia

222. Because of its lax licence and tax laws, Liberia has for many years been a flag of convenience for the fringe air cargo industry. A company incorporated in Liberia can locate its executive offices in another country and conduct business activities anywhere in the world. Names of corporate officers or shareholders need not be filed or listed, and there is no minimum capital requirement. A corporate legal existence can be obtained in one day. Liberia also has lax maritime and aviation laws that provide the owners of ships and aircraft with maximum discretion and cover, and with minimal regulatory interference. Businessmen in several countries compete with each other to attract customers for these offshore registrations. The system has led to a total disregard for aviation safety and a total lack of oversight of Liberian registered planes operating on a global scale.

223. The Panel requested documentation on all Liberian registry aircraft from Liberian Civil Aviation Authorities and the Ministry of Transport, but was told that the documentation had been lost or was destroyed as a consequence of the Liberian civil war. A schedule of Liberian-registered aircraft provided to the Panel by the Ministry listed only 7 planes. No documentation was available on more than 15 other aircraft that had been identified by the Panel. Many aircraft flying under the Liberian flag, therefore, are apparently unknown to Liberian authorities, and are never inspected or seen in the country. Many operate from airports in Central Africa (N'Djili in DRC, Luanda in Angola or the national airports of The Congo Brazzaville, Rwanda, Kenya and Gabon) or in the Middle East (United Arab Emirates, Tripoli in Libya or Khartoum in Sudan).

224. Several countries (including Belgium, South Africa, U.K. and Spain) have in recent years banned Liberian registered aircraft from their airspace and airports, in part because of fraudulent activity in relation to their registration. The illegal registration of more than one plane with the same number, for example, is a practice frequently mentioned by airport inspectors throughout Africa. It is also widely acknowledged that Liberian EL-registry planes operating in Africa and from airports in the United Arab Emirates are commonly used for illicit arms shipments.

C. Key Individuals in Liberia's Aviation Registry

225. A Kenyan national named Sanjivan Ruprah plays a key role in Liberia's airline registry and in the arms trade. Before his involvement in Liberia, Sanjivan Ruprah had mining interests in Kenya, and was associated with Branch Energy (Kenya). Branch Energy owned diamond mining rights in Sierra Leone, and introduced the private military company, Executive Outcomes to the government there in 1995. Ruprah is also known as an arms broker. He has worked in South Africa with Roelf van Heerden, a former colleague from Executive Outcomes, and together they have done business in Rwanda, DRC and elsewhere. Ruprah was once in charge of an airline in Kenya, Simba Airlines, until investigations into financial irregularities forced the company's closure.

226. In November 1999, Ruprah was authorized in writing by the Liberian Minister of Transport to act as the 'Global Civil Aviation agent worldwide' for the Liberian Civil Aviation Regulatory Authority, and to 'investigate and regularise the ... Liberian Civil Aviation register'. The ostensible aim of Ruprah's investigation was to 'suspend and/or cancel the registration of those aircraft which have had illegal certificates issued outside the knowledge of the government'. During its visit to Liberia the Panel asked the Transport Ministry, the Ministry of Justice and police authorities about Ruprah and his work, but was told that Ruprah was not known to them.

227. Sanjivan Ruprah travels using a Liberian diplomatic passport in the name of Samir M. Nasr. The passport identifies him as Liberia's Deputy Commissioner for Maritime Affairs.

228. A British national, Michael G Harridine, was previously appointed by the Liberian Minister of Transport to act as Chairman of the Liberian Civil Aviation Regulatory Authority, through an office in the United Kingdom. Harridine told the Panel that he is no longer involved with the registration of Liberian aircraft. He acknowledges, however, that irregular activities in the registration of Liberian aircraft were taking place.

229. An airline named Santa Cruz Imperial/Flying Dolphin, based in the United Arab Emirates, has used the Liberian registry for its aircraft, apparently unbeknownst to Liberian authorities until 1998. It also used the Swaziland registry until the Government of Swaziland de-registered them in 1999. A total of 43 aircraft were de-registered, operated by the following companies: Air Cess, Air Pass, Southern Cross Airlines, Flying Dolphin and Southern Gateway Corporation. According to the Government of Swaziland, 'while the names may be different, some of these companies are one and the same and did not operate from Swaziland.' When it discovered that some of the aircraft were still operating, the government of Swaziland sent information to the Civil Aviation Authorities in the UAE where some of the aircraft were based, in part because of airworthiness concerns, and in part because it believed that the operators may have been involved in arms trafficking. Flying Dolphin is owned by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Saqr al Nayhan, a business associate of Victor Bout.

230. Victor Bout is a well-known supplier of embargoed non-state actors - in Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and elsewhere. Viktor Vasilevich Butt, know more commonly as Victor Bout, is often referred to in law enforcement circles as 'Victor B' because he uses at least five aliases and different versions of his last name. He was born in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, had air force training in Russia, and reportedly worked as a KGB officer shortly before the end of the Cold War. He then went into private business, setting up airline companies throughout Eastern Europe. Today Victor Bout oversees a complex network of over 50 planes, tens of airline companies, cargo charter companies and freight-forwarding companies, many of which are involved in shipping illicit cargo. Bout himself lives in the United Arab Emirates.

231. Bout has used the Liberian aviation register extensively in connection with his company, Air Cess Liberia. The UN Panel investigating the violations of UN embargoes on UNITA in Angola identified 37 arms flights, all with false end-user-certificates and false flight schedules, conducted with Liberian-registered planes operated by Victor Bout, between July 1997 and October 1998. Victor Bout is a resident of the United Arab Emirates and many of his airline companies are based there, providing charter services to companies in more than ten countries. His planes, however, are registered elsewhere - in Equatorial Guinea, the Central African Republic and elsewhere.

232. Centrafricain Airlines is one of the many companies controlled by Bout and his Air Cess/Transavia Travel Cargo group. Early in 2000, an investigation into fraud concerning the registration of an aircraft operated by Centrafricain Airlines was initiated in the Central African Republic, because some aircraft flying these colours were operating without a licence.

233. An Ilyushin 76, registered in Liberia in the name of Air Cess Liberia in 1996, was later registered in Swaziland. It was subsequently removed from the Swaziland register by the Civil Aviation Authority because of irregularities. The plane then moved to the register of the Central African Republic, where it obtained the designation TL-ACU in the name of Centrafricain Airlines. The aircraft sometimes carries the registration of the government of The Congo-Brazzaville. As with other Bout aircraft, the plane is based in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates.

234. This plane was used in July and August 2000 for arms deliveries from Europe to Liberia. This aircraft and an Antonov made four deliveries to Liberia, three times in July and once in August 2000. The cargo included attack-capable helicopters, spare rotors, anti-tank and anti-aircraft systems, missiles, armoured vehicles, machine guns and almost a million rounds of ammunition. The helicopters were Mi-2 and Mi-17 types. A few months earlier, two Alouette-3 helicopters had been flown in by a Libyan government plane, but these helicopters were replaced by the newly arrived ones and are thought to be in Liberia no longer. (A note on European sources of weaponry is included in paragraph 248, below.) These deliveries, all made after the collapse of the Lomé Peace Agreement, are especially worrisome.

235. The transactions were set up by Victor Bout in the United Arab Emirates, and by Gus van Kouwenhoven, mentioned in paragraph 218, above. The plane used for the helicopter shipment was the Ilyushin 76, TL-ACU. Bout worked with a freight forwarder in Abidjan. A non-existent company 'Abidjan Freight' was set up as a front by Sanjivan Ruprah, to conceal the exact routing and final destination of the plane. The official routing was 'Entebbe-Robertsfield-Abidjan' but the cargo was unloaded in Robertsfield. The weapons were sourced from Central Europe and Central Asia.

D. Offices in the United Arab Emirates

236. Virtually all of Bout's companies, regardless of where they are registered, operate out of the United Arab Emirates. Sharjah Airport is used as an 'airport of convenience' for planes registered in many other countries, such as Swaziland, Equatorial Guinea, the Central African Republic and Liberia. In October 1998, 15 planes of Santa Cruz Imperial/Flying Dolphin, all registered in Liberia but operated from Sharjah, were temporarily grounded by the Liberian Aviation Authority. The planes have also been under investigation in Swaziland and in South Africa, and were finally barred from airports in these countries.

237. The authorities in the United Arab Emirates are aware of the seriousness of the issue and told the Panel that they are in the process of taking measures that will make it more difficult for aircraft registered elsewhere to remain in the UAE for more than a year without a local inspection. Better registration and safety inspections would perhaps make such aircraft more airworthy, but they do not address the issue of gun-running. The concerns raised by the Panel have been raised before in the UAE, and it is not clear that any serious action has been taken.


  previous | contents |  next